The 50 Traits We Desire in a Friend

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In the best of friendships, we gain support, care, and a lent hand by someone who understands us, leading to an empirically proven more satisfied life. Yet, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2023 advisory, we are in a loneliness epidemic, despite largely living in densely populated cities with vast opportunity to connect. As social animals whose survival has depended on belonging, and who are hard-wired to seek connection, curiously, we are choosy about the connections we seek. Which traits we desire in friends and which we do not, specifically, was a topic of a recent study, published in Evolutionary Psychological Science:

In the first of three studies, researchers sent a survey to 236 participants (122 women and 114 men), with a mean age of 29.9.

In the survey, participants were asked to “Write down some traits that you would like your friends to have,” “Write down some traits that you would like your friends not to have,” along with demographic information. Once the surveys were complete, researchers coded the answer to reveal 50 traits that people wanted friends to have, organized into eight broad categories, and 43 traits they did not.

The following lists the desirable traits in a friend:


  • Positive
  • Optimist
  • Smiling
  • Pleasant
  • Kind
  • Polite
  • Well-intentioned


  • Serious
  • Smart
  • Cultivated
  • Reasonable
  • Consistent
  • Mature
  • Calm


  • Trustworthy
  • True
  • Reliable
  • Decent


  • Funny
  • Good humor
  • Comical
  • Active


  • Be available when I need someone to talk to
  • Have time for me
  • Be there in difficult times
  • Listen to me when I have a problem
  • Helpful
  • Giving
  • Supporting
  • Generous



  • Have similar preferences
  • We have common interests
  • We have the same values
  • Stays close by



  • Compassionate
  • Tolerant
  • Patient


  • Discreet
  • Non-judgmental
  • Keeps secrets
  • Not be jealous

The following are the traits identified as being undesirable characteristics in a friend:


  • Two-faced
  • Hypocrite
  • Exploitive
  • Liar
  • Unreliable
  • Evil
  • Ungrateful
  • Malicious
  • Curmudgeon
  • Rude
  • Self-seeker
  • Derogatory
  • Insulting
  • Immoral
  • Racist
  • Closed-minded


  • Spoiled
  • Stingy
  • Shallow
  • Arrogant
  • Conceited


  • Impatient
  • Undecided
  • Lazy
  • Chatterbox
  • Pessimist
  • Impulsive
  • Immature
  • Grouchy
  • Vain
  • Suspicious
  • Irritable
  • Gossiper


  • Competitive
  • Censorious
  • Self-centered
  • Selfish
  • Jealous
  • Ironic
  • Narcissist
  • Self-seeking
  • Easily offended

In the second study, 706 (385 women, 311 men, and 10 participants who did not specify gender) were asked to rate the 50 traits identified in study 1 in terms of friend desirability. In the third study, 861 (453 women, 408 men, and four participants who did not specify gender) were asked to rate the negative traits identified in study 1 in terms of what they would find undesirable in a friend.

The studies found that the most desirable broad category traits were being honest, ethical, pleasant, and followed very closely by available. The most undesirable category was being dishonest, and, more specifically, being two-faced, a hypocrite and exploitative were listed as the worst overall traits.

Between both second and third studies, while men and women agreed about their top desirable categories — honest, ethical and pleasant — women rated these traits higher than men. The researchers surmise that because of the evolutionary dependence women had on friends for survival and reproduction, they have higher standards in friends than men, and that men and women may prioritize preferred traits differently.

Further, older participants rated other traits highly, preferring smart, available and discreet as desirable traits. Perhaps, the researchers note, that as people grow older, they become more selective with what traits they would prefer to have in a friend.

It’s important to note that this study was based on participants being asked what traits they would and would not desire in “your” friend. This method of collecting data would require participants to consciously recognize and identify what they wanted in the construct — or in the idea — of a friend. In using friendship as a construct, instead of asking about a specific friend, or asking participants to retroactively recall what they specifically enjoyed about their own close friends, the data may have been skewed. One example of this, for instance, is that studies show that selfish people tend to choose to befriend similar others, even when it comes at a cost to them, however this research did not look at participant personality and how it correlates to trait preference. People tend to befriend others for a host of reasons, including material support, but predominantly here, more noble traits prevailed.

While there are shortcomings in this study — as there are in all psychological studies — perhaps the identification of honesty as the most prevalent desirable trait, and its anthesis as the least, shows that in the end, if even as only a construct, we all desire ‘true’ friends.

Please note: There were three broad categories noted in the originally published paper of this study which grouped undesirable traits. However, I personally believe the traits should be reorganized and grouped differently, for instance, being ‘rude’ or ‘close-minded’ has a differing underlying construct or concept than being dishonest.

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